Mondesi: Top 5 Games This Weekend
Pitt at Notre Dame, Saturday, 3:30 PM
Line: Notre Dame (-8)
The Skinny: Another week, another big, nationally-televised game for the Pitt Panthers (that’s three out of their first five, for those of you scoring at home). And while they’ve had some success against the Irish recently, winning in 2008 and 2009, Notre Dame’s recent coaching change brings Dave Wannstedt-foil Brian Kelly to the sidelines for this rivalry.
There’s no doubt that Wanny wants some measure of revenge for the loss against Kelly’s Cincinnati Bearcats last season that cost Pitt the conference title, but nothing has come easy for the Panthers this season. They needed far too long to put away Florida International last week despite the second-best rushing day in school history from Ray Graham, who will return to his non-starting role this weekend. And I’m not encouraged of the matchup between Notre Dame’s passing attack (17th in the nation) against Pitt’s shaky-at-best secondary.
Then again, it’s not as if the Irish come into this game totally wart-free. They’re sporting a 2-3 record, losing in excruciating fashion against both Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive weeks before getting blown out by a talented Stanford squad last Saturday. They’ve been victimized by the run, yielding an average of 152 yards per game to the opposition, and give up a total of 401 yards per game on D this season. The Panthers will not be facing a second coming of the Steel Curtain, that’s for sure.
The Irish can definitely be beaten, but Pitt will need a solid rushing attack, they’ll need Tino Sunseri to stretch the defense, they’ll need a genuine effort from Jon Baldwin, and they’ll need more cohesion from the newly-reconstructed offensive line. That, and a stout showing from their secondary and pressure on Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist should do it. Is it too much to ask for all of these things to happen during the same game? I don’t think so. At least not if Pitt has any hope of salvaging the rest of their season.
My Pick: Pitt 31, Notre Dame 30
Illinois at Penn State, Saturday, 12 PM
Line: Penn State (-11.5)
The Skinny: The Nittany Lions are mad after yet another loss to Iowa last week, and they’ll try to take it out on the Illini, struggling at 2-2 and claiming only two wins over “directional” Illinois schools so far.
Last season, Penn State victimized Illinois to the tune of 338 yards rushing in a 35-17 win in Champaign. This year, the game takes place in Happy Valley, where the Lions are 3-0 this season in beating a warm-up schedule of Youngstown State, Kent State, and Temple.
The Penn State offense (100th in the nation) needs to catch up to their defense (15th), and this could be a good place to start as any. RB Evan Royster has had just one 100+ yard game, and calls to replace freshman QB Rob Bolden have gotten louder after the Lions went without a touchdown twice in their first five games. But JoePa is insisting that no shake-ups will be made, so the status quo will simply have to improve their respective levels of play if Lion fans want a different output from their offense.
Illinois has a rather bland passing attack, but RB Mikel Leshoure is on pace for over 1,400 yards to lead the nation’s 29th-ranked rushing game. However, Leshoure will be running into the country’s 18th-ranked defense, and if Penn State can shut him down, their chances to win will improve exponentially. I think they can and they will. In JoePa we trust.
My Pick: Penn State 19, Illinois 16
Minnesota at NY Jets, Monday, 8:30 PM
Line: Jets (-4.5)
The Skinny: Favre. Moss. Peterson. Revis. Sanchez. Santonio. Tomlinson. Chilly. Rexie. Need I go on?
This is going to be one of those Monday Night Football games so big that there will be a rush to report the overnight TV ratings. And I think the game will absolutely live up to the hype, as Revis Island gets another shot at Moss (who beat him for a touchdown earlier this season) and a certain wake-and-baker who you’re all familiar with suits up for Gang Green for the first time following a four-game, league-mandated time-out.
Make no doubt about it, this game is an absolute must for 1-2 Minnesota. Look at their upcoming schedule: Dallas, at Green Bay, and at New England…not exactly a picnic. This is a team built to win now, and they know it, hence the desperate move to add the emotional roller-coaster that is Moss. He wants a contract, they want a playmaker…who knows, it just might work. It sure wasn’t in New England this year, that’s for sure.
As for the Jets, they’re rolling along at 3-1 after the disappointing season opener loss against the Ravens. Mark Sanchez is averaging 205 yards passing a game, Ladainian Tomlinson appears to have found the fountain of youth, and the defense has been as good as they said it would be. Adding a deep threat like Holmes will give this team another dangerous dimension as they look to pull away from the Moss-less Patriots, also 3-1.
The nation will be watching this one, and I think Favre will pull a rabbit out of his hat against the team he called his own just two years ago. But one word of warning: just brace yourself for the media onslaught leading up to and coming after this game.
My Pick: Vikings 24, Jets 16
UNLV at West Virginia, Saturday, 3:30 PM
Line: WVU (-27.5)
The Skinny: If the Mountaineers struggle in this one, it’s their own fault. UNLV has not been very impressive in their three matchups against ranked foes so far this season, losing by an average of 22 points to Wisconsin, Utah, and Nevada. The only win for this 1-4 team was a cakewalk over an even weaker New Mexico (1-5).
If that weren’t reason enough to pick the ‘Eers in this one, consider the fact that it’s a home game against a team traveling over 2,200 miles to play this contest and the deal should be sealed.
WVU has just one blemish on their schedule, a 20-14 loss at always-tough LSU on September 25. Being that this is their final tune-up before Big East play starts on a short week for them next Thursday the 14th against South Florida, I’d imagine that they’d like to grab a quick lead, watch it grow, and save some of their more valuable players for their battle with the Bulls.
This has Blowout City written all over it, with or without the dinged-up Noel Devine, as West Virginia tries to make a case to regain entry into the Top 25. Beating UNLV usually wouldn’t do that, but destroying them might.
My Pick: WVU 38. UNLV 13
LSU at Florida, Saturday, 7:30 PM
Line: Florida (-9)
The Skinny: LSU hasn’t knocked off the Gators in six seasons, and the pressure is rising for Les Miles among his constituents to come back with a win. They narrowly escaped with a win against Tennessee last week, and as a reward they get Urban Meyer’s squad, fresh off a rare 25-point thumping at Alabama.
Florida wants to add another notch to the win ledger, and it may come without QB John Brantley, who suffered a rib injury last week. If he can’t go, wildcat-friendly Trey Burton, who leads the team with 8 TDs, will be more than able to step in. But it won’t necessarily be easy sledding against an LSU defense that ranks fifth in the country in points against, at 12.4 per game.
On the other side of the ball, LSU is juggling two quarterbacks, and you know the old saying – that means they have none. They rank 112th in the nation in passing at just 131 yards per game, going up against a Florida defense that’s already racked up 12 picks and 12 sacks versus opposing QBs this season. Tiger fans can’t be encouraged about that matchup.
It looks like both teams sport defenses stronger than their respective offenses, so the game probably won’t play out as a shootout. Expect some points to be scored, but also expect the Gators to get off the schnide in the process. Urban Meyer just doesn’t lose back-to-back games. In fact, he’s only lost more than one game in two of his five seasons at the helm in Gainesville. That’s right, he’s coached three 13-1 seasons in the last five, and has had no multiple-loss seasons since 2007. Any chance we could lure him to Pittsburgh?
My Pick: Florida 24, LSU 20
My picks: 2-3 last week, 13-7 season (.650)
Your picks (via polls): 3-2 last week, 14-6 season (.700)
Don Spagnolo is the founder of the Pittsburgh sports and entertainment blog Mondesi’s House.
He can be reached via email at Don.Spagnolo@cbsradio.com and on Twitter @mondesishouse